Most dissertations and other publications within the Humanities contain a form of literature review in which the author discusses the existing research on the topic and situates his/her own publication in relation to this. The literature review may be more or less explicit in the text and of varying length. It may also be an entire article in itself.
Many applications for research funding require an overview of existing research, which can point out the areas where further research may be needed, so as to emphasise the relevance of the application. In these cases, it is often called a “State-of-the-art”, and in many PhD dissertations you will see the expression “literature review”. Thus, there is no commonly accepted term within the Humanities; several are used, according to the traditions of the various research areas and the individual project. In recent years, the number of interdisciplinary research projects has been growing. These involve traditions from more than one faculty, and here it may be important to be aware of your own subject’s tradition and how it differs from those of other academic areas. In the following, the word “review” will be used, since it is a neutral term which respects all traditions.
The Review itselfRegardless of name, all kinds of literature reviews are meant to position the individual project within the theoretical, methodological and empirical fields of the area of research, defining it in contrast to related fields. Another thing that is typical of literature reviews in the Humanities is that they rarely, if ever, claim to discuss all the literature published within their area. This distinguishes them from meta-studies (“Systematic Reviews”) in Medical Studies, where the purpose is to gather all available information about a specific topic (e.g. the effects and side effects of a medical treatment). Most literature reviews from the Humanities will point to the most important and/or most recent research contributions in their specific area.
A literature review is a written product (article, chapter, or paragraph(s)), but before it can be produced, there is a process to go through. We distinguish between the product (the review itself) and the process, which will be a systematic literature search. You are welcome to contact the Library if you need guidance in your literature search.